[sf-lug] Volunteer InstallFest (Dec 15th) / low-spec hardware

Michael Paoli Michael.Paoli at cal.berkeley.edu
Thu Nov 22 04:56:24 PST 2007

> Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2007 10:55:22 -0800
> From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
> Subject: Re: [sf-lug] Volunteer InstallFest (Dec 15th)
> Quoting Tom Haddon (tom at greenleaftech.net):
> > what distro to install based on hardware specs (Rick's recent comments
> > about stripping down standard distros notwithstanding).
> The relevant snippet of your intake sheet is:
>   Choice of Distro to install
>   ( ) Puppy Linux < 256 MB RAM -- Min 512MB Disk Space
>   ( ) PCLinuxOS 256 -- 384 MB RAM -- Min Disk Space ?
>   ( ) Ubuntu - 384 MB RAM or more -  Min Disk Space 5GB +

Current stable Debian distribution on i386 hardware:
"You must have at least 48MB of memory and 500MB of hard disk space"*
... and I think the "i386" may need to be >=i486 if I recall correctly
(due to somewhat more recent (as of several years ago?) changes in gcc
and the linux.org supported kernels).  Now, with those bare minimums,
one couldn't install *much* (or get much out of even a more specialized
tiny hardware oriented distribution), but one could still get a
mainstream Linux distribution on there - with some careful attention to
exactly how one goes about installing it (e.g. start with just
installing the bare minimums it requires for an install using its
standard install procedures - no extreme hackery needed to trim things
down further or work with some rather-to-far-from-mainstream
specialized Linux distribution).

> The fact is, only experienced Linux users can get much satisfaction from
> Linux on low-spec hardware, regardless of distribution (though giving
> them a limited, non-mainstream distro like Puppy Linux will compound the
> problem).  Novices will tend to experience frustration, and to blame
> Linux.  Personally, I think that's a bad idea.

*Relatively* true.  It probably depends much more on the experiences and
expectations of the user.  If they've never seen - or more notably used
- a windowing GUI operating system, and certainly aren't expecting some
touchy-feeley-GUI user-friendly operating system and applications (e.g.
they've been living in a cave, or analogous environment), and if
they're not going to be instantly and majorly disenthralled upon seeing
one for the first time and understanding or learning that their
hardware just isn't capable of that - or much of that ... well,
basically, if their expectations are low to none, they may do fine
without a much to significantly more loaded installation.  Part of it
will also depend upon what support they'll be able to easily get - and
from where.  If they'll be getting support from resources that will
mostly expect them to have quite fully loaded X/Gnome/KDE, and rather
fully loaded set of Open Source desktop applications (and/or something
rather resembling, from the Open Source side, what certain big fat
proprietary operating systems typically get installed onto them) ...
then it may be quite unpleasant and disappointing for them.  On the
other hand, if they get support from resources that expect/understand
"Oh, this user may very well have a pretty tiny mostly basic client -
and perhaps wee bit of server - installation" ... then they may be
quite fine (e.g. perhaps if their support is e-mail and IRC, and
they've been given enough orientation on how to use text versions of

Not that I'd generally recommend trying to do Linux installations onto
"i386" (>=i486) with as low as 48 MiB RAM and 500 MiB of disk ... but,
if the expectation are and will continue to be reasonably in line with
the hardware's (lack of) capability/capacity, then such an installation
may still be rather to quite useful - instead of mostly being a
disappointing and rather unsupportable waste.

"Back in the day", many folks - and even including many of us, and not
all that horribly long ago - did some pretty useful and interesting
things on what by today's standards would be quite "low-spec" hardware.
Some folks may still be able to well utilize such low(er)-spec
hardware - at least in some circumstances, ... and some of us even
continue to use such low(er)-spec hardware.  E.g., my personal desktop
system is a dual 200 MHz Pentium MMX, with 64 MiB of RAM.  It still
does quite a bit for me (last time its hard drive died, its hard drive
got upgraded from ~9GiB to a perfectly good tossed in the
garbage/recycling ~160GiB hard drive (that was and still is under
manufacturer warranty!) ... and at least well into 2003 I was still
quite actively using X on it (okay, it was very sucky painful X, but it
was a mostly rather to quite useable** X nevertheless ... 1 bit 
monochrome 720x348 ... original Hercules monochrome graphics card - 
circa ~1989).  So, yes, that system still does quite a bit for me (e.g. 
much larger hard drive storage capacity than my circa 2003 personal 

Of course, also, worthy of consideration, if what's being tossed out on
the streets or generally given away for free, is much higher spec
hardware than what one might otherwise be installing onto, in many
cases it may make much more sense to get some of these free discards,
and install onto that - rather than do installation(s) on much older
and lower spec hardware ... but such may also very much depend on
available resources and location ... e.g. computer equipment that's
left/dumped at curbside in Berkeley/San Francisco may be more than an
order of magnitude more capable than what's available for free in
<random impoverished city in random impoverished third world country>.

*references (note that that's bare minimum, not recommended minimum):
**for suitable definition of useable

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